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Book Review: by Lang Reid

Update February 21, 2015


There must be very few people in the developing world that have not heard of Manny Pacquiao. Judged to be, by the boxing world, as the greatest pound for pound fighter in the world. Being somewhat of a pacifist, I was aware of Manny Pacquiao and his reputation, but had never looked into his history, and just how he had got where he is at today.

The PacMan biography (ISBN 978-0-306-82045-8, Da Capo Press, 2011) has been written by Gary Andrew Poole, himself a writer for several magazines.

Very early in the book, the reader is made aware on the crushing poverty that is all pervasive in the Philippines. Poole suggests that PacMan’s greatest pride comes from paying for children to go to school, when he himself had to leave school at 15 because of the financial destitution of his family. The “Pacquiao scholars” as they are known, are more than 500. The PacMan may be revered in his home country, but is it for his boxing ability, or for his work in the social arena?

The book explores and describes his background living in a very poor fishing village. From there, it follows his journey to Manila to the boxing arenas, which seem almost as popular as the local Catholic churches. PacMan, like the majority of Filipinos, is a devout Catholic and in the Black Nazarene group, which worships a black wooden Jesus statue, which it is claimed can assist in miracles happening.

Much background is given as to the characters of some of the entourage, people it would seem are necessary for Pacquiao to be able to fight at the top level, so coaches and trainers and ringside assistants are all looked at and their psyche analyzed and how they fit in with the boxer’s.

The influence of the media is explored, coupled with the fight promoters, and with big money changing hands (in the millions of dollars), those who can be trusted can be counted on the fingers of one hand it would seem.

Manny Pacquiao comes across as a complex character who can dedicate himself totally to the next bout, but also spend time in pool halls and cock fighting and being accused of infidelity, but with the Filipino press so firmly on his side, there is no public group trying to get him to change his ways.

I asked a Filipina in the office about PacMan, “Does good, but more for himself!” was the reply.

Several B&W plates in the middle of the book, mostly after 2009 leading up to his election as a congressman in the Philippines, though the first group shows the poverty that he came from as a 15 year old.

At B. 545 on the Bookazine shelves it is not an expensive insight into the character of the boxer. There are many sides to Manny Pacquiao and the book definitely makes understanding the man a little easier. However, I got the feeling from the book that the PacMan is actually more than a little unsure of himself, which explains in some ways, the retinue that he allows to follow him everywhere.

Update February 12, 2015

A Kim Jong-Il Production

North Korea remains an enigma in today’s world. On one side we hear of starvation and underground atrocities. On the other hand we are regaled with pictures of thousands of North Koreans weeping, following the death of Kim Jong-Il. Not oppressed at all!

One of the best books on North Korea that you can buy is Great Leader, Dear Leader which is an absorbing exposť of North Korea under the Kim clan - Great Leader Kim Il Sung and his son, Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il. It traces the origin of the regime’s ideology and investigates its attempts to fill its empty state coffers through missile technology sales and other unorthodox schemes. Written by Bertil Lintner, his book is the bible on North Korea.

However, here comes another called “A Kim Jong-Il Production” written by Paul Fischer (ISBN 978-0-241-00430-2, Penguin publishers 2015). Fischer does not include notes on himself in the book, which is a shame, as I believe readers would like to know his bona fides if they are going to give the book much credence. Ah well, but a little internet searching brings out the fact that he has written 16 books but on such subjects as graphic user interfaces and accountancy. This book does have several pages of a selected bibliography, which allays some of the fears.

The book is divided up into three “reels”, understandable when you know that one of the main characters in the book was a movie director, and author Fischer is himself a movie producer.

Kim Jong-Il was interested in movies from an early age and Fischer proposes that part of this fascination was Kim Jong-Il’s need to substitute the celluloid tableaux for his mother who died early. In the film industry it was possible to bring back images resurrected of his mother, the most important mentor for the young boy.

The psyche of Kim Jong-Il is detailed, along with the manipulations to history that are possible for someone with absolute powers. Indulged beyond belief, he would resort to tantrums if something he asked for was not immediately available.

So when it was obvious that North Korea needed to be represented on the world’s movie stage, Kim Jong-Il, as usual, wanted instant action, and the only way he could see to elevate film-making in the North was to kidnap the top film-maker from the South, and for good measure, the leading actress as well.

The excesses indulged in by Kim Jong-Il are documented, excesses which are banned in North Korea, and those indulging can find themselves imprisoned for many years - unless, of course, they belonging to the inner sanctum. Alice in Wonderland!

A hefty book at a hefty price at B. 825 from your local Bookazine. Undoubtedly this is an example of the “unorthodox schemes” to which Bertil Lintner alluded to in his book, and is well enough presented for me to accept Fischer’s explanation. If you have an interest in what is going on in North Korea, this is another primer towards getting to the bottom of the North while comparing it to the top of the South.

Update February 8, 2015

Churchill and Empire

Lawrence James, the author of Churchill and Empire, Portrait of an Imperialist (ISBN 978-1-7802-2481-7, Phoenix Publishers, 2014) has released this book on Winston Churchill at a most opportune time, being 50 years almost to the day since his death (30 November 1874 - 24 January 1965).

Of course, as soon as one mentions his name, the famous parlays between him and Lady Astor are trotted out:

Lady Nancy Astor: “Winston, if you were my husband, I'd poison your tea. Churchill: “Nancy, if I were your husband, I'd drink it.”
Nancy Astor: “Winston, you are drunk.

Winston Churchill: “And you, madam, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning!”

But there are hundreds of other quotes to show that Winston Churchill was one of the more erudite scholars of his time. Here are three of my favorites:

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”
“Politics is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”

“For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history myself.”

James splits his book into six parts, based on the time scale, and is not afraid to make his opinion public. On the first page of Part 1 (1874-1900) he writes of Kitchener and Churchill, then a young soldier, describing them as “Both served and believed passionately in the British Empire and each was an ambitious self-promoting egotist.”

Having gone from the Tories, Churchill moved to the Liberals, and his fights with those not of the same mind as he are shown (and incidentally showing the great degree of research by the author Lawrence James).

Civil war in Ireland was a very real threat and this book shows just who was egging on whom over the Belfast debacle. In the end, civil war was only averted by a world war!

That the first world war was a chance for many countries to expand their borders, rather than fighting common enemies, was well understood by Churchill, who was a little afraid that the Empire might be fragmented, with Japan being in the forefront of annexation. The “allied” troops were never united and the Italian generals dismissed as “organ grinders” by the British Parliament.

In the years leading up to WW2, Churchill continued to protect his British Empire, never swerving from what he thought was the key to world stability, let alone British.

By the time you get past WW2, the sham nationalism is shown, with financial deals being carried out such as three million pounds to the King of Saudi Arabia!

For B. 605 from Bookazine, you can pick up a very well researched book. With two sets of photographic illustrations and a 50 page bibliography it is a work which is both weighty and worth the money. And will also make you look at history with a jaundiced eye.

Book Review - Update February 1, 2015

Catch 22

I mentioned the book Catch 22 to a group of 50 year olds the other day. They professed ignorance which I thought was very sad, so I make no excuse for re-running my review of one of the all-time classics of English literature. However, having been written five decades ago, there are a couple of generations who have not been exposed to it. Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22” (ISBN 978-0-099-53601-7, Vintage publishers, 1994 reprint), is a book that has been reprinted many times, and will continue to be.
First published in 1961, it is still significant, with the phrase Catch 22 being adopted by the Western world to denote bureaucratic situations which become a lose-lose position for an affected person, and which is beyond the capabilities of the people involved to change it. Bureaucratic ‘double-speak’ taken to its ultimate end, where the content of a decision no longer matters, only the maintenance of the status quo.
Yossarian, a Bombardier in the US Air Force stationed on the island of Pianosa is the “hero” (in reality the “anti-hero”), with the setting being 1943 during WW II. Yossarian is paranoid, but it should always be remembered that just because one is paranoid does not mean that nobody is out to get you!
The other members of Yossarian’s squadron are introduced, such as the Mess Sergeant Milo Minderbender who runs the ultimate PX scams, using US planes and pilots to ferry his contraband to Europe and Colonel Cathcart, Yossarian’s nemesis, who continually raises the number of missions that must be flown before any airman can be sent home.
Others are The Chaplain, who remains an innocent amongst the guilty, Major Major Major Major of whom the name makes sense in a military sense for a person christened Major Major Major, Doc Daneeka who wants to be put on the flight manifest but not actually go up so he can claim flight allowance but is actually afraid of flying, General Dreedle who wanted to shoot one of his own officers and had to be reminded that he was not allowed to shoot his own men, and the dead man in Yossarian’s tent, who officially was not there.
The book can be thought of as a tragi-comedy in black satirical humor, with the chapters introducing the individuals as humorous items, but then as you go further into the book, the tenor becomes blacker and thought producing.
Just in case you think I have exaggerated the importance of this book in contemporary literature, The Modern Library ranked Catch-22 as number 7 on its list of the greatest English language novels of the twentieth century. The Radcliffe Publishing Course ranks Catch-22 as number 15 of the twentieth century’s top 100 novels. The Observer listed Catch-22 as one of the 100 greatest novels of all time. TIME puts Catch-22 in the top 100 English language modern novels, and The Big Read from the BBC ranked Catch-22 as number 11. A significant book.
If you have not read this book before, do it now. The review copy came from Bookazine and this book truly is the ultimate literary bargain.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]


A Kim Jong-Il Production

Churchill and Empire

Catch 22